Fresh looks on small budget
Local man has ideas, courage to give homes new life
By Mary Matsumoto
Mary Matsumoto photos
Michael Christel (right), currently a resident of New Holstein, knows how to bring unusual and creative looks to rooms for only a little bit of money.

When Michael Christel was 5 years old, his parents bought him a paint-by-number set.

Unlike most budding artists, however, little Michael wasn’t satisfied to follow the numbers; he was determined to choose his own colors.

Today, in his early 60s, he really hasn’t changed. He still prefers to set his imagination free when it comes to art. The only difference is the size of his canvas. Putting together his love of art and design with carpentry, he now prefers to work with an entire room as his canvas.

His interest in giving old buildings a new facelift developed when he bought his first house in Elkhart Lake at 21 years of age. He admits he didn’t really know what he was doing at the time, but he had observed his parents in his growing up years as they remodeled the houses they had owned, and this gave him the enthusiasm to go for it.

From Elkhart Lake, he moved on to houses in Hingham, Kiel, St. Anna and finally his present location in New Holstein, each time changing the look of the new home, sometimes even more than once. Though each home inherited its own unique character and design from Michael, one thing remained the same— his trademark sky ceiling.

Sky ceilings a specialty

Michael loves clouds. He loves how they twist and turn into animal shapes in the sky. He tries to capture this magic on ceilings. So anyone who owns a former Michael Christel house is sure to have one of his famous sky ceilings.

In the beginning, he had considered starting his own renovating business, but did he have what it takes to make a go of it, he wondered.

He was invited to help a contractor in Port Washington who also had a talent for and interest in artistic design. The contractor wanted to fashion an apartment building to blend in with some older downtown structures. He asked Michael to paint address numbers above the outside entrances of each apartment in a style that would fit his design.

When Michael was finished, the man liked it so much he asked Michael to do some trim in different colors to fit in with the downtown décor. This was also well received.

“You should start your own business,” the contractor told Michael, “because you do great work.”

That was just the encouragement Michael needed. He called his business The House Doctor, and for 13 or 14 years, he took on projects of all types and sizes, often changing the entire look and struc-ture of a building.

These days, he’s content to tackle the

smaller jobs, so he renamed his business The Clean Look, emphasizing the uncluttered, simple look, and besides doing the work himself, he freely shares ideas with others who want to take on the challenge themselves.

Paint a cheap way to go

Always the artist, Michael says in to-day’s economy, paint is a cost-effective way to give any room a dramatic restoration.

If you’re redoing a wall, Michael suggests choosing a color that will fit your personality. A quiet, reserved person, for instance, will probably choose more subdued colors, whereas an outgoing person might opt for bolder ones.

Or, pick a color from a favorite painting.

But remember, he says, that darker colors tend to make a room look smaller. Still, you can offset that by the trim.

Take a black wall, for instance. “I’ve seen some that were very classy,”

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